Have you ever wondered what sets native speakers apart from people who learned American English as their second language? Part of what makes native speakers’ speech sound so natural is their use of slang! Here’s a definition of “slang,” courtesy of the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
a type of language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people.
Popular American English Slang You Should Know
Oftentimes, when people study English using the traditional methods and courses, they only study the formal version of the language. This can make them sound robotic because it’s not the natural way that native English speakers talk. But by learning some of the most commonly used slang words, you can be on your way to sounding like a native speaker!
Of course, slang changes all the time. And some slang that was super popular just a few years ago is “totally out” – not cool. One example that comes to mind? Groovy. That was a way to say “cool” or “awesome” in the US in the 1960s and ’70s, but nowadays you’ll only hear it in movies! Without further ado, here are my favorite slang words.
If you only add one American English slang term to your repertoire, it should be this one. “What’s up” often replaces “hi” or “hello” as a casual greeting. It is most commonly used among the younger generations. “What’s up?” is a casual way of asking how someone has been or what they’ve been doing.
Some non-natives don’t know how to respond to this greeting, but it’s simple. You can tell the person how you are, or something interesting that has happened to you lately. The easiest answer: “Not much, you?”
Catch you later
This is a casual way of saying goodbye, and that you will talk to someone again when you see them next. If you want to sound more playful, you can even say, “Catch you later, alligator.” If someone says that to you, you can reply with, “After a while, crocodile!”
This is a relaxed, casual way of saying “I do not know.” Relax your mouth when you say these words and shrug your shoulders. It’s a classic example of how Americans tend to mumble!
To be bomb
When you say that an object or a person is “bomb” or “the bomb,” it means that they’re really cool! Some synonyms are: awesome, phenomenal, or the best. But this is a high compliment so use it wisely! For example, “that sandwich was bomb.” It’s starting to become somewhat outdated now, but people will still “catch your drift” (understand you) if you use it.
Although the word “dude” used to be typically used by skaters and surfers, today it can be used for any gender, by any gender and for pretty much any possible situation you can imagine. For example, “Thanks, dude!” or “Dude, what are you doing?”
Just be careful, if you use it for someone you have a crush on, you might accidentally put them in the “friend zone” (make them believe you just want to be friends, or don’t have any romantic feelings for them).
To be shady
When you call someone or something “shady,” it means that it or they are dishonorable, corrupt, or sneaky. In other words, something “smells fishy” (doesn’t feel right). It’s not a compliment! For example, you could say “Cathy stole her wineglass from that restaurant. How shady!”
Shady can also mean that something is dark because of shadows. A sentence like, “Let’s go to the shady part of the park,” can have two very different meanings! Don’t be afraid to ask what someone means if they use ambiguous slang.
“No worries” got its start in British, New Zealand and Australian English as a way to say “don’t worry about it,” “that’s okay,” or “that’s all right.” However, it quickly became ingrained into American culture. It’s a way of conveying friendliness and good humor. Some people use it as a response when someone thanks them, but it’s more polite to say, “You’re welcome” or “It’s my pleasure.”
When you say “I’m in,” it’s a casual way of saying “count me in” or “I want to be included.” For example, if someone says: “I’m hungry. I’m going to get pizza,” you could respond: “I’m in!”
A person who is laid back is someone who “goes with the flow.” They are calm, relaxed, not bothered or worried about anything. For example, “Ryan is so laid back… nothing seems to shake him.”
To put someone in their place
This means that you let another person know that they’re not as cool, powerful, or special as they might think they are…
Learn to Pronounce American English Slang (Video)
Sometimes people are hesitant to use slang in their target language because they don’t know exactly what contexts are appropriate, or how to pronounce certain words. Abbe recorded a video so that you can hear exactly how each of these slang terms is pronounced with a real American accent. Watch it below, or on YouTube.
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How to Pick Up More American English Slang
If you come across a term that you don’t know, Urban Dictionary is a good place to start. Just be careful, anyone can edit entries so they don’t always reflect the truth.
Are you learning a different language? Check out these other articles about slang in French, German, Spanish from Spain and Spanish from Latin America, Italian (we have two lists, since slang changes so quickly, but this one includes a video with pronunciation) and Brazilian Portuguese!
Thanks for reading! Catch you later!